Drinking large quantities of alcohol very quickly can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can be extremely dangerous. If you think someone might be experiencing alcohol poisoning, even if you have doubts, call 999 for an ambulance.
What is alcohol poisoning?
Alcohol poisoning is when we drink a lot of alcohol in a short space of time, which leads to the alcohol in the blood stopping the body from working properly. Both men and women are at risk, however women tend to have higher blood alcohol levels after drinking the same amount of alcohol as men, so may be even more at risk.
There is no minimum amount of alcohol that can cause alcohol poisoning
What many people might not know is that there is no minimum amount of alcohol a person needs to drink to cause alcohol poisoning. It depends on age, sex, size, weight, how fast someone has been drinking, how much they have eaten, their general health and whether they have taken medication or drugs.
To keep your risk from alcohol harm low, it is important to stick within the UK Chief Medical Officers' (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines. Both men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units a week. But to keep short-term risks (like accidents or injury) from drinking low, limit how much you drink on one occasion.
What does too much alcohol do to the body?
If someone drinks a lot in a short space of time, the amount of alcohol in the blood can stop the body from working properly. It can:
- Slow down brain functions, which causes a person to lose their sense of balance
- Irritate the stomach, which can cause vomiting
- Dangerously affect the nerves that control a person’s breathing and their heartbeat
- Dehydrate the body
- Lower the body’s temperature, which can lead to hypothermia
- Lower blood sugar levels, risking brain damage
Signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning
It’s crucial to be aware of the signs of alcohol poisoning in order to help someone quickly, because they won’t be able to help themselves.
Alcohol poisoning can be difficult to spot. Someone may have only had a few drinks, or they could have had several, but this isn’t always an indicator.
Don’t wait for all the symptoms to show before getting help
By recognising the signs of alcohol poisoning and knowing what to do, you could save someone’s life.
Signs and symptoms to look out for:
- Loss of bladder and bowel control
- ‘Passing out’
- A drop in blood sugar to very low levels, risking brain damage
- Breathing and swallowing reflexes, which runs the serious risk of breathing vomit into lungs which can cause choking
In the most serious cases, alcohol poisoning can cause slowed breathing and result in coma or even death.
Five things you can do if someone is showing signs they have alcohol poisoning
- Try to keep them awake and sitting up
- Give them some water, if they can drink it
- Lie them on their side in the recovery position if they’ve passed out, and check they’re breathing properly
- Keep them warm
- Stay with them and monitor their symptoms
If you think someone might have alcohol poisoning, even if you have doubts, call 999 for an ambulance
Worried about your own or someone else’s drinking?
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